I decided to explore different ways back to my home in Karori, initially to add some variety to my walking commute. But when I looked into the different routes, I realised they told a story about the difficulty of getting in and out of Karori. This is the case for many of Wellington’s suburbs of course, but access to Karori seems to have been an ongoing issue since the earliest days of European settlement when it was an important source of farming produce and firewood for the rest of Wellington.
I started off by exploring the earliest known route to Karori. I’d often noticed a blue sign for this route pointing up Orangi Kaupapa Road from Glenmore Street. Although the sign describes it as a route taken by settlers and surveyors from 1840, it seems that at least part of the route was first used by Māori before the arrival of Europeans.
The road to Karori originally went up Molesworth Street. I set off from the Pou Whenua sculpture at the bottom of Molesworth Street on an autumnal weekday morning. The scultpure marks a waka landing place, and I’m reminded that this spot would have been on the shoreline in 1840. A bus from the airport is disgorging passengers laden with luggage. Walking up Molesworth Street, there is little sign of anything from the era of the early settlers, although the Thistle Inn round the corner on Mulgrave Street would have been in existence then, in an earlier building. The route then turned left onto Hawkestone Street. I pass through the Hungarian Garden on the corner of Hawkestone Street and Molesworth Street, with its carved wooden gateway commemorating more recent settlers – Hungarian refugees who arrived in New Zealand after the 1956 uprising.
Samuel Brees, the chief surveyor of the New Zealand Company, lived on Hawkestone Street. I had an image in my head of the surveying party calling at his cottage in for a hearty breakfast on their way to Karori, but I think this route pre-dated his arrival in Wellington by a couple of years. Modern-day Hawkestone Street feels disjointed: its main function seems to be to provide access to the motorway at the Tinakori Road end, while at the Molesworth Street end are a few rather forgotten-looking houses, some unattractive office blocks overspilling from Molesworth Street and the concrete brutalist back end of St Mary’s College. The slopes of Te Ahumairangi loom above the end of the street.
Turning left up Tinakori Road, the cute colonial era cottages feel more in keeping with the spirit of my walk. This part of the route, up Tinakori Road and Glenmore Street, followed the course of the Pipitea stream and in some places, used the stream bed. The stream is now piped underground, flowing out of the sight of browsers in the antique shops and second-hand designer clothes stores.
I turn off Glenmore Street into Orangi Kaupapa Road, as directed by the blue sign, climbing steeply uphill. I can hear running water and wonder if it’s the Pipitea stream, burbling up from underground.
Orangi Kaupapa Road is one of those Wellington roads of two halves, too steep and narrow for through traffic. At the side of the path that connects the two halves, is a trampoline beside an oak tree. The trampoline is covered in acorns, but apart from that, looks perfectly serviceable. Everywhere, the ground is choked with tradescantia. Where the path comes out on Garden Road, the ridge above me looks forbiddingly sheer with a few houses perched on top like fortifications, guarding the approach. Orangi Kaupapa Road continues uphill to the right, widening out into a one way street, but my route takes me up Military Road, which mostly isn’t a road at all, but a concrete path which climbs steeply up a gully towards the top of the ridge. This was a pathway used by Māori for tending gardens on the Te Ahumairangi ridge.
On the way up Military Road there are pathways, little wooden bridges and steps, none of which look as if they are used, including a long flight of steps that looks quite new but is overgrown with weeds. The bridges look particularly decrepit. Paths disappear off into bush. They must lead to houses somewhere but there are none to be seen.
There are birds everywhere, tui mainly, their calls resonating around the gully, and blackbirds fossicking in the undergrowth.
Military Road comes out on top of the ridge. On Northland Road, roads seem to go in all directions, some snaking along the ridge-top, others heading downhill. It feels disorientating until I recognise St Mary’s church and realise that I’m looking over the ridge at the edge of the Karori basin in the direction I need to go.
Military Road continues for a few yards down the other side of the ridge, but ends in a driveway, so I walk back up to Northland Road and take Kaihuia Road down the hill, and then follow a steep path that zig-zags down to Sydenham and then Randwick Road. At the bottom of Randwick Road there’s the same blue sign about the early settlers route, and I’m pleased that I seem to have gone the right way.
At the bottom of Randwick Road, houses are tucked into the steep hillsides that look as if they rarely see the sun. On a verge, a pile of abandoned hard drive cases are being slowly taken over by more tradescantia. On Curtis Street, pylons laden with overhead wires march along the valley and up the ridge line. Beyond a high chain-link fence on the other side of the road, a couple of paradise shelducks sit in the middle of the park. This part of the valley, from Appleton Park through to Otari-Wilton bush has the feel of a hinterland, a ravine filled in with rubbish and spoil and turfed over.
The spoil hides another stream, the Kaiwharawhara, although this stream at least makes a reappearance further down the valley. The filled-in ravine provides some valuable flat land for playing fields, but it seems to be mostly a place you pass through, a road connecting a long line of suburbs from Karori to Johnsonville. I’ve never walked around here before. Turning left along Curtis Street, I feel closed in, high banks on either side, and in front of me. High up above a house with an almost vertical section, someone appears to be creating a garden. A long newly-built flight of steps leads up to wooden terraces and the sound of hammering.
The early settlers route went somewhere up past Seaforth Terrace, but I’m now following a route that was built a few years later up Old Karori Road. This is another road of two halves. Vehicles can drive down the short distance to where the Karori garden centre used to be, and where a childcare centre is now being built. Somewhere around here is the site of the Devil’s Bridge, which used to cross the Kaiwharawhara stream, another part of the route which was first used by Māori.
When I first read about the Devil’s Bridge, I was hoping to find out that the people of Karori used to lurk here at midnight, ready to sell their souls, but it appears that the story of how the ‘Devil’s Bridge’ got its name is much less interesting and involves someone falling off it to the rocky stream below. The Devil’s Bridge is long gone, buried somewhere deep under fill, along with the Kaiwharawhara stream.
From this point, Old Karori Road was closed to traffic in 1988, and continues as a path, cut into the side of a steep bank. I walk past the building site and up the remains of the road. On one side, water drips down the sheer rock face and the other is lined with trees, which must have grown since the road was closed to traffic, the tarmac disintegrating at the edges where the roots have pushed through. It feels enclosed and very narrow. Surely it must have been one way.
Part way up, a large dog is sitting by the side of the path. He looks at me, neither friendly nor aggressive. He tries to stand and I realise that there’s a long rope attached to his collar which is caught on a tree root. I go closer and he is still looking at me without the slightest hint of expectation. I’m usually confident with dogs, but I can’t make this one out. He’s neither wagging his tail, nor pleading to be set free. Maybe it’s the proximity of the former Devil’s Bridge, or the slight spookiness of the road that is no longer a road, but he’s making me feel nervous. I move cautiously towards the rope. He still doesn’t respond, and so I pull the rope free. I’m hoping he belongs to the builders, down at the bottom of the path, and decide to take him down there. He seems happy to follow me. One of the builders is sitting in a van and I take the dog up to him. He’s on the phone, so I stand and wait. The dog waits too at the end of the rope. I realise that the dog is completely docile, and wonder how I could have felt scared of him. The builder finishes his call, and yes, the dog had been tied up on the site but must have managed to set himself free. I’m glad to hand him over, but at the same time I had started to rather like him. I’ve been having hankerings for a dog recently. I walk back up the Old Karori Road, to where it is once again used by by traffic, zigging back on itself to join the new Karori Road, and head for home, slightly missing the docile dog on the end of his long rope.
Karori Historical Society (2011) Karori and its people
Hawkestone Street then: Brees, Samuel Charles 1810-1865 :View looking down Hawkestone Street, Wellington, with Mr Brees’ cottage. [1845 ?] Engraved by Henry Melville. Drawn by S C Brees. [London, 1847]. [Brees, Samuel Charles] 1810-1865 : Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand. Plate 13. Pipitea Point, Wellington, 38; View looking down Hawkestone Street, Wellington with Mr Brees Cottage, 39; Wesleyan Chapel Mission House, Wellington, 40. Engraved by Henry Melville. Drawn by S C Brees. [London, 1847]. Ref: A-109-021. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22814164
Tinakori Road 1860s: Dorset family. Tinakori Road, Thorndon, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-021173-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22311450
The Devil’s Bridge: Ramsay, Albert, fl 1890. Devil’s Bridge, Karori. Gibson, Mrs : Photographs of 69 Creswick Terrace, Northland, Wellington, home of the Grant family; and of “Devil’s Bridge”, Karori, Wellington. Ref: PAColl-0356-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22794376